Tuesday, December 4, 2007




1. The Hold Steady – Stay Positive

This much we already know: Craig Finn’s lyrics would make your American Lit professor proud; Finn’s delivery hits like a swift backhand from dad teaching you to be a better man; and The Hold Steady are the rockandeffingroll band of the 2000s, thank you very goddam much. Stay Positive does much to reaffirm these points. And the drunken, uncomfortable characters that inhabit these songs strike a familiar chord with the ex-hardcore-scenester-turned-forward-thinking underachiever in the worst of us. Of course, we can’t forget the gravy here: Like all Hold Steady records, Stay Positive flat-out rocks the living hell out of us. (And no, we’re not above admitting that we air guitar to this record Tom Cruise in Risky Business-style.)

2. Drive-By Truckers – Brighter Than Creation’s Dark

Despite some raves to the contrary, this is not the Truckers’ best work. With Jason Isbell’s departure, in our eyes, it couldn’t possibly be. The good news is, the hole created by the absence of his dirty balladry is nicely covered over (if not at least partially back-filled) by bassist/ex-wife Shonna Tucker – who penned and warbles a few of the songs – and by the dialing up of some A-game songwriting by Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley. It’s just about all there: the gritty characters; the clever, down-home storytelling; the stomping, rambling, staggering I-ain’t-gonna-finish-the-bottle-again-tonight eulogizing. If only we could take “Dress Blues” from Isbell’s Sirens of the Ditch album and put it in this track list, then maybe we could stop dumping snorts of Beam into our sweet tea to numb the pain.

3. Smoking Popes – Stay Down

This was the comeback of the century for some Slimfit members. The Popes’ last real record – 1997’s Destination Failure – provided us with many a life anthem over the years, and when we learned of Stay Down’s release, we couldn’t have been more tickled (that is, except for when we saw the band live this past summer). With the new album, all the familiar Popes staples are still in place: crunchy guitars, soaring melodies, and Josh Caterer’s lovelorn croon. But even with all the high points, Stay Down could really survive on one song alone: the chilling, Truman Capote-channeling “The Corner.”

4. Kathleen Edwards – Asking for Flowers

We weren’t sure which got us first – the Great One/Marty McSorley nod in “I Make the Dough, You Get the Glory” as a metaphor for relationship imbalance, or the thick, choking darkness of the second verse in “Alicia Ross,” which brings you inside the last dying moments of a young, murdered woman. Either way, Kathleen Edwards, you lift us with ease, you collapse us in gutting agony.

5. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes

Listening to Fleet Foxes’ eponymous first full-length is the auditory equivalent of chowing down on a bowl of gourmet squirrel stew in the backwoods of Venus. Three- and four-part harmonies – drenched in reverb, somehow seeming simultaneously earthy and otherworldly – are wrapped around what is essentially a gorgeous and slightly trippy perversion of folk music. Variously it shuffles, warns, recalls, rollicks and references the devil like good folk music should. But in spite of these rustic, worn-in undertones, there’s an organic sophistication that drives the disc just far enough into uncharted territory to make it feel like you just discovered a new neck of the woods.

6. Radiohead – In Rainbows

In Rainbows taught us two things this year: A) that record labels no longer sit in the driver seat and B) that Radiohead can actually get weirder and still be that good.

7. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago

For Emma, Forever Ago isn’t going to garner any nominations for Best Party Jams ’08. Bon Iver’s debut is a study in the tattered, deconstructed and heartbreakingly beautiful. Buzzy, jangly acoustic guitar grounds Justin Vernon’s atmospheric falsetto through much of the album, as it meanders from fragilest melancholy to soaring ache. The whole affair is punctuated by faint echoes of backwoods gospel, cacophonous tension and fireside pathos. There’s an inescapable feeling that any of these songs could unravel, unresolved at any moment. Every minute is imploring and evocative, so we recommend that you collect them all.

8. Counting Crows – Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings

So, you’d argue: “August and Everything After is the best Counting Crows album.” And right you’d be. A follow-up to such a gem is a mountain climb. While not quite as excellent as August, the Crows’ sophomore album, Recovering the Satellites, at least proved that they could rock it. But then came two loafs of quirky, star-studded, Hollywood-influenced, ill-produced songwriting and we all but left Adam Duritz ’n’ pals for dead. That is, until this year. Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings is a return the heartfelt songwriting, superb production (thank you, Gil Norton), and, at times, the edginess that made us fall in love with the band more than a decade ago. No, it’ll never be August, but Saturday Nights rivals Satellites as their second-best album, with a pastiche of rockers, acoustic ballads and nice hints of country.

9. Perkasie – Perkasie

Perkasie holds the distinction of being one-half of our two favorite bands from Lancaster, Pa., our hometown. (The other half is Wetlands, and had their forthcoming album been finished in ’08, it, too would’ve made this list.)

Perkasie’s self-titled debut mishmashes Scott Joplin, The Mamas & The Papa, and a contemporary indie swagger – we’re talking saloon piano stomps; three, four, and five part harmonies; and just enough off-kilter acoustic pop to appease the snotty scenesters. And the male-female call-and-response vocals of Kate Foust and Alex Wash just kill us. These guys (and gal) may hail from just down the road, but they’re the real motherbleeping deal. Look ’em up. Trust us.

10. The Avett Brothers – The Second Gleam

Yeah, yeah. We know it’s only an EP. Pipe down. That’s why it’s Number 10. But listen: Sure, we’ve encountered dozens of songsmiths who can sum up the entire universe in a single pithy verse, but we have yet to come across a duo who can do so with such consistency, grace, rollicking melody and unspoken knowledge of each other’s next moves the way Scott and Seth Avett do, song after blessed song. The last line in “Murder in the City” almost made our bass player cry. Almost. The thought of what the next Avett Brothers album holds (to be produced by Rick Rubin, no less) has us sitting on our hands in anticipation.



Okkervil River – The Stand-ins

The Gutter Twins – Saturnalia

Jim White – Transnormal Skiperoo

Wolf Parade – At Mount Zoomer

Throw Me the Statue – Moonbeams

Deerhunter – Microcastle

The Walkmen – You & Me

Black Keys – Attack & Release

Kings of Leon – Only by the Night

Ray LaMontagne – Gossip In the Grain

Yeasayer – All Hours Cymbals

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